Insights Nigel Fairbrass

Signal failure

This week – Stagecoach responds to East Coast franchise troubles – Freemasons’ discrimination claims – Rocket Man Elon Musk

Replaying corporate responses and injecting a more human approach


Stagecoach Group’s response to the East Coast rail debacle pulled into the station this week. By some estimations a month behind schedule. Chief Executive Martin Griffiths sought to blow the whistle via a tightly-scripted piece to camera for the company’s own channels, which it then promoted on Youtube, Twitter and the company website.

Making Stagecoach human and its position personal was undoubtedly the right thing to do. But either owing to diffidence or more probably the Department of Transport muzzling the company before throwing it under one of its own trains, Stagecoach now finds itself trying to re-write six weeks of negative headlines since the issue first hit the buffers last month.

Martin Griffiths railed against the injustice of a lot of one-sided commentary with some justification. While well-written however, his video came in at over 6 minutes and groaned with facts and figures, suggesting it was perhaps a little over-ambitious.

Impact?  Whilst its arguments are compelling, the Stagecoach video has garnered only 339 views on Youtube, which must be disappointing given both the investment made and the existential threat building to privatised rail in the UK.  In print the company also seemed to cede too much share of voice to commentators with obvious political agendas.

What could have been done differently?  Whilst affording you control, owned media channels are effective only if you have reach and shareable content.  When Lord Adonis first raised the East Coast issue back in January, Richard Branson was straight out of the sidings with a blog post promoted to his 12 million Twitter followers that was personal, accessible and to the point.  With only 7,000 Twitter followers, Stagecoach perhaps should have recognised that reach and access was more important than control, and suited-up for a range of print and broadcast media interviews to get their point across.  If the company’s strategy is to rely on the trade association to make its case, it may wish to reconsider.  As Branson might have it, sometimes you just have to say sod it, let’s do it.  Despite what the Minister might think.

Who made a human connection?

Dan Brown fans were doubtlessly electrified this week by revelations that two Freemason lodges operate inside the Houses of Parliament.  Allegedly comprising lobby hacks, MPs, Peers and parliamentary staff, The Guardian story had echoes of another exposé of a furtive, male-only organisation which also claimed to raise lots of money for charity.

In response, Dr David Staples, the chief executive of the Freemasons United Grand Lodge took out a series of full page adverts in the national press denouncing the casual discrimination he claims Freemasons suffer and promised a series of Q&A events up and down the country, to fully explain what the organisation is about.

Given the collapse in trust suffered by other organisations in recent years, from the BBC to the film industry, you have to marvel at the front of a movement whose identity has always been cloaked with an air of mystery, if not elitism.

Nonetheless, some credit then to Dr David Staples and some of his fellow Masons, who took to the airwaves this week to defend the organisation from accusations of cronyism and worse.  In interviews such as this one with LBC’s Nick Ferrari, Dr Staples did a good job of demystifying the Freemasons and putting it in a human context.

Rocket Man

Who is little rocket man now? Certainly not Elon Musk, who strapped his own cherry Tesla Roadster to a serious flame-thrower and put it into orbit this week.

Musk has been dogged by manufacturing delays to his cars, attacks on his remuneration package and what critics dismissed as infantile antics to support his ‘Boring Company’ tunnelling enterprise.  But his brand of gauche geekiness and inexhaustible optimism is a powerful antithesis to the sclerotic nature of scientific exploration as sponsored by government.

The scientific community is one of the few institutions for which trust has not plummeted in recent years, so it would be unfortunate if Musk allowed the personality cult building around him to obscure the astounding scientific advances being made, or to undermine the way in which he is engaging a new generation of young people in the thrill of space exploration.